All PTSD Symptoms Are Highly Associated with General Distress

Ramifications for the Dysphoria Symptom Cluster

Published in: Journal of Abnormal Psychology, v. 119, no. 1, Feb. 2010, p. 126-135

Posted on on January 01, 2010

by Grant N. Marshall, Terry L. Schell, Jeremy N. V. Miles

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This study used longitudinal data collected from two trauma-exposed samples, survivors of community violence (N = 294) and wildfire evacuees (N = 234), to examine a key claim underlying a proposed reformulation of the symptom structure of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This theory, which we term the PTSD-dysphoria model, posits that 8 of 17 symptoms of PTSD reflect dysphoria or general psychological distress and might be deemphasized to improve the utility of the PTSD construct (Simms, Watson, & Doebbeling, 2002). For each sample, we analyzed PTSD symptoms and measures of general distress administered at 2 time points. A consistent pattern of findings was observed across assessments for each sample: All 17 PTSD symptoms were highly associated with measures of general distress. Moreover, we found no evidence that dysphoria symptoms were more highly correlated than PTSD-specific symptoms with general distress. Results call into question both the conceptual basis and the clinical utility of differentiating between symptoms that appear to be relatively specific to PTSD and those that seem more broadly characteristic of general psychological distress.

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